Most Important Nutrients for Thyroid Imbalance - Nikki Yelton RD

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Most Important Nutrients for Thyroid Imbalance

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The thyroid impacts your energy levels, metabolic rate, body weight, mood, hair growth, and so much more. This is why it’s so important to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients for thyroid health. Thyroid imbalance affects the whole body!

Girl with food that has nutrients for thyroid health

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Did you know the thyroid is responsible for producing and regulating the hormones that support every function in your body? More so, the thyroid impacts your energy levels, metabolic rate, body weight, mood, hair growth, and so much more. This is why it’s so important to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients for thyroid health. Thyroid imbalance affects the whole body!

Unfortunately, most women struggle from thyroid imbalances that are flying under the radar and going undiagnosed. Despite popular belief in the medical sphere, standard labs alone aren’t a reliable tool to diagnose thyroid dysfunctions. Meaning, it can be challenging to 1) diagnose thyroid disorders and 2) achieve optimal thyroid functioning.

AUTOIMMUNITY AND THE THYROID

When it comes to autoimmunity, the thyroid has a direct connection. 20 million Americans have an autoimmune thyroid condition and 1 in 8 women will experience thyroid imbalances due to autoimmunity in her lifetime. According to one Pubmed study, “Altered thyroid hormone levels can influence the immune system, and, on the other side, some immune cells secrete TSH, which exerts endocrine and paracrine, cytokine-like effects.” In other words, thyroid imbalances have a direct influence on the immune system, and vice versa. In addition, Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid itself. 

13 SIGNS OF THYROID IMBALANCE 

Unfortunately, many common symptoms of thyroid imbalance plague most women today. Worse, most believe their symptoms to be not only common, but normal. However, common does not equal normal, especially when it comes to the following signs and symptoms of thyroid dysfunction:

  • General fatigue or HPA axis dysfunction 
  • Poor immune function
  • Brain fog
  • Join pain
  • Insomnia
  • Toxin overload 
  • High cholesterol or lipids 
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Estrogen dominance 
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Anxiety or depression 
  • Hair loss 
6 MAIN CAUSES OF THYROID IMBALANCE & DYSFUNCTION

Thyroid imbalance is often overlooked because labs may look normal and symptoms can go undiagnosed for years before proper diagnosis. This is usually due to the fact that chemistry should be addressed on an individual basis by trending thyroid patterns over the years. In order to successfully treat conditions like hypothyroidism and hashimotos, we have to understand what triggers the immune system to attack the thyroid in the first place. The following are some of the main causes that can often lead to thyroid dysfunction. 

Infographic of main causes of thyroid imbalance such as nutritional deficiencies and leaky gut
Nutrient Deficiencies

This is what we are focusing on the most in this article because it is one of the top causes of thyroid dysfunction often due to intestinal permeability. Correcting nutrient deficiencies is one of the best places to start in order to see improvements. In order for your immune system to function optimally, it must have an abundant amount of nutrients to use. In addition, many single nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D deficiency, are linked to autoimmune thyroid conditions. 

Intestinal Permeability

Speaking of intestinal permeability, this is often the main root to all autoimmune conditions and thyroid dysfunction is no exception. If 80 percent of your immune system 

is located in your gut microbiome, it only makes sense that a compromised gut (such as leaky gut) would contribute to autoimmunity. Advanced functional medicine labs can now determine if you have leaky gut, how severe it is based on the level of gut dysbiosis, and can give us a good estimate on how much time it would take to heal. 

Stress

Stress alone can contribute to autoimmunity, especially thyroid imbalance. This is typically due to a sudden trauma or trigger, such as a pregnancy, car accident, or stressful personal life event. Many times autoimmunity and thyroid conditions lay dormant until some kind of trigger occurs that will often bring it to the surface and activate it. Think of this like a volcano erupting. Studies continue to confirm the stress-thyroid connection. Stress usually builds over time and is left chronic for long periods of time, can cause an increase in cortisol levels which blocks the conversion of T4 to active T3. 

Food Intolerances and Sensitivities 

Food intolerances and sensitivities unique to the individual with a predisposed autoimmune condition can result in an overactive immune system. Most individuals consume foods they are intolerant or sensitive to on a daily basis without even realizing it because these foods have a systemic effect when it comes to inflammation. The most common food intolerances that contribute to inflammation and make autoimmune symptoms flare are gluten, soy, dairy, and even grains in general. 

Functional medicine food sensitivity testing makes it a lot easier now to identify what these foods are and what foods are creating more inflammation in the body for individuals. I personally run this on all my clients to rule out non-Celiac gluten sensitivity and food sensitivities. 

Toxin Overload 

Unfortunately we are living in a time and environment that is extremely toxic. The air we breathe, food we eat, environment we live, and the products we use all contribute to 

hundreds and thousands of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis. Many studies continue to show how chemicals and heavy metals can contribute to both intestinal permeability and autoimmunity. This is especially true for the thyroid which is extremely susceptible to toxins. For women, this often comes from daily exposure to chemicals and metals in cosmetics, perfumes, and skincare products. 

Infections 

Whether it be gut infections, a virus such as EBV, or something like lyme disease, infections can contribute to all autoimmune conditions and especially those relating to the thyroid. I often see gut infections like bacteria, parasites, and candida in the gut contribute to thyroid imbalance the most. It is imperative to identify these and work with a practitioner who can help you properly remove them in the right way in order to see improvements with thyroid dysfunction. I personally use and recommend a DNA stool analysis to identify possible gut infections that need to be removed in order to improve thyroid dysfunction. 

Gut infections that contribute to thyroid imbalance like EBV and Lyme disease
TOP NUTRIENTS FOR THYROID HEALTH

Regardless of the cause leading to thyroid function, proper nutrient consumption is a non-negotiable and in my clinical opinion, one of the best places to start.. Luckily, most of these essential nutrients are found readily available in whole foods and can be a game changer for your thyroid. While looking at your unique nutrient deficiencies is always the gold standard, these are the top nutrients to pay close attention to if you are looking to improve and optimize your thyroid. 

MINERALS 
Magnesium

Magnesium powers thyroid function, the immune system, hormone metabolism, and energy levels. It also regulates enzyme activity. Having low levels of magnesium alone can contribute to elevated antibodies against thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase which leads to low thyroid function. There are many forms of magnesium and not all are created equal when supplementing. Too much magnesium can actually act as a powerful laxative. Most individuals benefit from an absorbable magnesium such as magnesium glycinate or dimamagnesium malate around 300mg per day. This is around 70% of the recommended daily value and what has been studied to work best for individuals with thyroid dysfunction. 

Top food sources include dark chocolate, leafy greens, almonds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds.

Selenium

The highest concentration of selenium, which is an essential trace mineral, is located in the thyroid gland, and therefore, is a necessary component of enzymes important for thyroid function. Selenium is a micromineral that is often deficient in those with thyroid dysfunction and is proven to have the most effect on thyroid function in comparison to any other single nutrient. This is because selenium can support each stage of thyroid function between hormone formation and release, TSH production, and thyroid hormone conversion. Research indicates that selenium supports thyroid function in people with Hashimoto’s but appears more pronounced in people with selenium deficiency. In fact, selenium is so effective for the thyroid it can actually lower thyroid antibodies in Hashimotos in only 3 months! 

The top food sources of selenium include Brazil nuts, fish such as yellowfin tuna and sardines, chicken, turkey, and grass-fed beef. Consuming only two to three Brazil nuts per day is enough to keep your levels optimal! 

Iodine

Iodine is well-known for its connection to thyroid health. Because thyroid hormones contain iodine, we need to consume adequate levels of iodine for thyroid hormone production. The recommended amount of iodine for adults is 150 mcg per day. For people with thyroid disorders, especially an autoimmune thyroid condition, it is possible to get too much iodine through supplements and medications (some cough syrups have iodine). It’s always recommended to speak to your doctor about iodine supplements and medications. 

The top iodine-rich food sources are sea vegetables like dulse, kombu, nori, arame, and kelp. You can also get more iodine through fish and shellfish, iodized salt, and pasture-raised eggs. 

Zinc

Zinc is responsible for hundreds of enzyme functions in the body. When it comes to the thyroid, zinc is essential for the production of thyroid hormones, their absorption which is used by the cells, and the conversion of T4 into T3. Having low levels of zinc can alter the thyroid and thyroid dysfunction alone can cause a zinc deficiency. This is why maintaining optimal levels of zinc can significantly improve both free T3 and free T4 levels. For zinc supplementation, the zinc bis-glycinate chelate is the most effective and absorbable form. It is typically recommended in 15mg increments depending on individual needs. 

The top sources of zinc include grass-fed meat, whole eggs, oysters, and pumpkin seeds.

Chromium

Unfortunately those with autoimmune thyroid dysfunction are low in chromium. Chromium is essential for proper nutrient absorption to fuel the thyroid. It is especially helpful for blood sugar regulation which is often out of balance in those with thyroid disorders. There are many forms of chromium and each has been shown to be safe and effective as a supplement to support thyroid health. 

Top food sources of chromium include cinnamon (especially ceylon), oysters, liver, seafood, and raw dairy. 

B-VITAMINS

All B vitamins are essential to enzyme function within the body, which impact the role of the thyroid. Consume plenty of vitamin B-rich foods, like:

Thiamin (B1)

Thiamin helps you produce adequate energy from carbohydrates. This can be useful for those struggling with fatigue due to thyroid disease and especially those with hashimotos. It also works quickly in the body when paired with other B-vitamins, such as in a multivitamin. 

The top food sources of thiamin include whole grains, blackstrap molasses, kale, spinach, and pasture-raised pork.

Riboflavin (B2)

Having abnormal thyroid levels can impair riboflavin absorption and thyroid hormones rely on the activation of riboflavin. Studies also show symptoms of riboflavin deficiency are very similar to symptoms of hypothyroidism. If supplementing, it is important to always choose the active form of riboflavin (riboflavin-5-phosphate) since those with thyroid dysfunction and disease cannot convert it at all.  

The top food sources of riboflavin include liver, pasture-raised eggs, wild-caught salmon, spinach, and almonds

Pyridoxine (B6)

Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is usually low in individuals with thyroid dysfunction. Thyroid hormones must go through many conversions for production and requires an enzyme called thyroid-hormone transaminase. This enzyme uses activated B6 which is known as pyridoxal-5-phosphate. For this reason, this form (PSP) is what will be readily used. 

The top food sources of pyridoxine include carrots, brown rice, raw cheese, sunflower seeds, lentils, wild-caught fish, and pastured poultry

Folate (B9)

Since those with thyroid autoimmune conditions typically have genetic variations or SNP’s such as the MTHFR gene, it is difficult for individuals to safely use and convert inactive folic acid. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate commonly found in packaged, processed, and enriched foods. This form of folate can be dangerous in those with thyroid dysfunction and can suppress the production of T4 and T3. 

Having adequate folate levels are key for a chemical reaction called methylation which helps regulate detoxification, energy, and mood. This is why those with thyroid dysfunction typically experience liver congestion, weight gain, fatigue, anxiety, and even depression. Supplementing with folate if you are low can not only improve methylation but can also help the effectiveness of thyroid medication. Quatrefolic is the active form of folate that is already converted so those with methylation SNPs can easily utilize it. A dose of 600-700mg is commonly recommended for those with low folate due to an MTHFR variant. 

The top food sources of folate include bee pollen, raw milk, root vegetables, dark leafy greens, asparagus, beets, tomatoes, and wild-caught salmon

Cobalamin (B-12)

About 40% of individuals with thyroid dysfunction are deficient in B-12 which can lead to weakness, impaired memory, fatigue, and depression. Many thyroid symptoms can improve by addressing B-12 alone if this is an individual deficiency. The most bioavailable form of B-12 is called methylcobalamin. This is the activated form that is readily available and preconverted. As we age, we lack the ability to convert cobalamin to methylcobalamin due to decreased or low stomach acid. Therefore, the active form of B-12 is always best if supplementing. The most common and effective dose often recommended for those with thyroid dysfunction if an individual is low in B-12 is 200mcg per day. 

The top food sources of cobalamin include whole eggs, raw dairy, pastured pork, grass-fed beef, and shellfish

OTHER VITAMINS WORTH NOTING

Fat soluble vitamins, along with vitamin C are all essential for proper thyroid function and are usually deficient in individuals with thyroid dysfunction due to reduced absorption and leaky gut. Check your diet and make sure you are eating plenty of the following food sources: 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the most abundant antioxidants available to us! It’s especially important for the thyroid as it can prevent damage to the thyroid cells from autoimmune disease. Pulp-free orange juice, grapefruit, organic apples, and ripe berries are all great sources of vitamin C. You can also get vitamin C in vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, and bell peppers. 

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble precursor to thyroid function. It is essential to regulating genes that control the body’s response to TSH. Many individuals with thyroid dysfunction have a harder time converting dietary carotenoids into active forms of vitamin A (called retinoic acid). You can find the best form of vitamin A would be a combination of palmitate and beta-carotene. My favorite option for this would be to eat a few servings a month of pasture-raised beef liver. You can also get vitamin A in foods like wild-caught fish, oysters, whole eggs, and anything orange in color which contains the beta-carotene pigment. Examples include carrots, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a key fat soluble vitamin that directly impacts thyroid and immune health. In fact, low D is widely correlated with Grave’s disease, hashimotos, and thyroid cancer. Studies show vitamin D supplementation can improve thyroid antibodies significantly in those who are deficient. Sources of vitamin D include raw milk, cheese and liver. However, natural sunlight is the best source of vitamin D! I recommend getting at least 15 minutes of midday sunlight each day to encourage vitamin D absorption and supplement when needed based on your unique chemistry. 

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat soluble antioxidant and vitamin that protects the body from oxidative stress, which can trigger thyroid dysfunction. It works in conjunction with selenium to protect the cells against damage. Top food sources include liver, avocado, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K works closely with vitamin D and calcium to promote healthy thyroid function. It is also essential for healthy blood coagulation therefore abnormal thyroid hormone levels can increase the amount of vitamin K needed for normal blood clotting. Dietary vitamin K is called menaquinone. Find it readily available in raw milk, whole eggs, liver, kale, spinach, and brussel sprouts.

Top nutrients for thyroid health such as magnesium and B vitamins
MORE KEY PLAYERS TO CONSIDER 
Protein

The amino acids in protein serve essential building blocks for the thyroid. Aim for at least 80-100 grams of protein per day. The best sources of high quality protein include grass-fed red meat, pastured poultry and eggs, and wild caught seafood. You can also get more protein from a good protein powder.

Omega 3

Most individuals with thyroid imbalance have low levels of omega 3 fatty acids or a poor omega 3:6 ratio. Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that reduce inflammation throughout the body. You can find these essential fatty acids in wild-caught salmon, sardines, chia seeds, and walnuts. When appropriate, supplementing with a high quality omega 3 fish oil can reduce inflammation in those with autoimmunity, especially thyroid dysfunction. 

Omega 3 rich food sources with nutrients for thyroid health
Probiotics

As we all know, health starts in the gut. Probiotics encourage a healthy gut microbiome, which directly impacts immune and thyroid function. The best strains of probiotics for thyroid dysfunction include bacillus subtilis and soil based organisms. Eat foods such as coconut kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and cultured full fat yogurt.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: MEALS WITH THYROID-SUPPORTING NUTRIENTS 

Now that we know which nutrients are necessary for optimal thyroid health, let’s put them into practice. Here’s a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory, thyroid-supporting meal plan to start:

  • Breakfast: pastured, organic whole eggs + roasted sweet potatoes + kale
  • Lunch: baked chicken thighs + well-cooked brussel sprouts + sweet potato fries
  • Snack: ¼ cup pumpkin seeds + organic apple
  • Dinner: grass-fed steak + roasted carrots and asparagus + olive oil

Eating for the sake of your thyroid really isn’t as complicated as it sounds. And, you bet it’s quite delicious! Bonus: these nutrients aren’t just necessary for your thyroid, but also for immune, skin, digestive, and cardiovascular health. 

For exact meal plans, recipes, and step by step details on how to eat to support your thyroid, gut health, and autoimmunity, check out my Gut & Autoimmune Meal Plan Subscription which takes the stress (and guesswork) out of what to eat to feel your best! 

MASTER YOUR THYROID

If you are ready to master your thyroid even further, I encourage you to learn more by attending this Masterclass + mini course to jumpstart your journey. The great news with the thyroid is you can quickly see improvements through lifestyle and dietary modification. This masterclass material has everything you need from what labs to run, what foods to eat, and what lifestyle practices to start (and stop) right now to see improvements in your health. 

You can check it out and sign up here! 

I always recommend working with a functional practitioner, who can help you support your thyroid. It’s important to utilize micronutrient testing to determine your unique deficiencies and better understand how to support your body as a whole! I personally use and recommend a combination of intracellular and extracellular nutrient testing to see what nutrients someone isn’t only deficient in, but also if there’s an absorption issue based on toxicity or intestinal permeability.  Click here to learn more about how I work with my clients to support their thyroid and whole body. 

In addition, I’ve created this FREE Gut & Autoimmune Starter Kit to help you navigate conditions such as thyroid imbalance. You can download that and get instant access right here. 

Most important nutrients for thyroid health
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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